Buckeye Magic

Today’s post is a lesson in friendship, a reminder that we are all connected. It’s also a window into the world of a writer and how book events aren’t glamorous; sometimes they turn downright ugly. My friend Amber is going to introduce herself in a moment. If you subscribe to my newsletter you’ll remember me talking about her book. For those who don’t receive my newsletters, Amber is the creative mind behind Project Keepsake. When she pauses to catch a breath, I’ll share what I was doing in NC at the exact moment she was in GA.

Amber: I rose to a familiar nip in the autumn air and dug out a wrinkled sweater from the bottom of my closet. I followed the winding country roads to Goodlet Farm near Rock Spring, Georgia and admired the contrast between the rolling green fields and cerulean blue sky along the way.

I love fall festivals and country fairs, and I was looking forward to participating in the first-ever Goodlet Farm Festival—a fundraiser designed to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. Festival organizers directed me to the Author’s Barn, where other regional authors and poets had congregated behind tables showcasing their books and promotional items. I sat down at a table with an acquaintance I had not seen in a few years and started unpacking copies of Project Keepsake. I placed a large bowl of buckeyes in front, then settled into my chair and waited for potential readers to sashay by.

Project Keepsake is a collection of stories by several different writers about the histories and memories associated with keepsakes—a quilt, a pocket knife, a cake pan, an heirloom sewing machine, etc. I coordinated the project, wrote two of the stories in the collection, and led the effort to find a publisher. The first story in the collection is “Herman’s Brown Buckeyes” — a story about my father and our relationship.

During my childhood, my dad gave me dozens of buckeyes he had retrieved from the woods. He always followed the gesture by saying, “Keep it. It’ll bring you good luck.” And so buckeyes remind me of my father and his lifelong love of the great outdoors—hunting, fishing, sitting by a glowing campfire, and roaming the backwoods of Georgia on foot.

During book events, I often bring a large bowl of buckeyes to give to passersby. The smooth brown nuggets tie into my book, but they also prompt interesting conversations. Many people respond to the buckeyes and share memories with me from their own lives, and I treasure that connection.

Renea: Many Southerners and hill-folk alike can recollect with great detail the moment a smooth buckeye was placed in their palm. For you see, a buckeye is just the right size for every hand, because it carries with it a bit of magic. Sometimes buckeye’s come on a whisper, a bent low-lips-to-the-ear moment when someone believes you are special enough to receive the gift. Other times buckeye’s come as a reminder that we all need a little bit of luck.

Buckeye’s trigger memories of special people which is why, upon receipt we are entrusted with the duty to share buckeyes with others. Buckeye’s slide effortlessly into pockets where your finger and thumb caress them for good luck and perhaps even remember that the One who created the Buckeye tree also created us.

Amber: And so it was on that beautiful fall morning at Goodlet Farm that I painted on a warm smile, handed out buckeyes, and sold three books in the first hour as the writing acquaintance seated next to me sat idle. I felt badly for her. During a lull, I reached into my cache and found the largest buckeye in the bowl. I handed it her way and said, “Here. Take a buckeye, my friend. It’ll bring you good luck.”

But instead of receiving my gift, she held her had upright and said, “No. No thanks.”

I offered again. “Come on. Take it. You never know—it may make all the difference.”

And that’s when she leaned toward me, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “I don’t need your good luck. Jesus is my good luck.”

She seemed agitated. No, she seemed kind of angry.

Stunned by her response, I sat motionless for about ten seconds, then finally uttered, “Jesus doesn’t care if you put a buckeye in your pocket. It’s just a fun Southern thing.”

She held firm in her rejection, and I realized she had misconstrued my gesture.

It had never occurred to me that someone might think I was pushing some sort of witchcraft on them through my offering of a buckeye. Indeed, I’ve never actually believed that good fortune was bound to a buckeye. I find them nostalgic, as do so many other folks.amberandbuckeye

Not having enough good sense that day to move on, I reached over and placed my buckeye on her stack of books. Yes, I realize that it was a juvenile response, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

She wasn’t happy with me and promptly removed it.

Like moving a chess piece into a check mate position, I put it back over on her side of the table, allowing it to make a heavy striking sound.

She was fuming. On the outside, I seemed pushy and bold, but inside, I was confused and hurt.

Renea: Dad and I have been building a goat fence. This little project, which should have taken a week, has lingered incomplete for almost three months. I’m not going to push him, but it is getting cold and the days are growing short. I’d like to look out my window and see a couple goats, before the snow is piled head high to a giraffe, but I digress.buckeyefence

My daughter decided to help which makes me smile. Grandparents are our most valuable treasure and time with them is time well spent. When Winchesters launch into project mode we do so in style. Jamie, Dad and I each tied an apron stitched by Rita, who made the apron from articles of my Mother’s clothing. We now carry a piece of Momma with us in our hearts, but we also keep her close. After filling the apron pockets with nails, wire, and tools we got to work.

Amber: A half and hour after the buckeye incident, civility returned to our table and we actually exchanged a few book publishing and promotion ideas with one another. I’m thankful for that.

Just after noon, each author was invited to read a few pages from his or her book at a lectern positioned in front of tables filled with people devouring barbecue. As my time slot approached, I flipped through the pages of Project Keepsake and landed on one of my favorite stories, “Uncle James’ Pocket Knife,” penned by my friend and fellow writer, Renea Winchester. Her story embodies the essence of the project—that the items we keep hold deep, powerful memories.

I stepped up to the mic and addressed the crowd. “Today, I’ve chosen to read a friend’s story, because I miss her, and I wish she were here with us today,” I said, and then I began reading.

“A memory keeper collects, gathers, plucks important items and hides them in safe places. Sometimes a memory keeper displays mementoes for all to see. Sometimes memory keepers listen, hoard and stack-up stories waiting for the right moment to share them with anyone who shows a hint of interest.”

As I read Renea’s words, I could see her life playing out in my mind—her selecting the knife that bore her uncle’s fingerprints. The audience clapped at the end, and I walked back to my table and my somewhat disgruntled table mate, all the while wondering where Renea Winchester was, how she was feeling, and what she was doing. I made a mental note to tell her I read her story to festivalgoers and that another author had been mean to me—rejecting my kind offering of a buckeye. I knew Renea would understand my frustration and melancholy.

Renea: While Dad and Jamie worked on the fence, I eased into the woods and began picking up sticks. The place has become a haven for briars, brambles and fallen limbs. It is difficult to mourn the loss of a parent and keep up with property maintenance. I bent double and parted the saw-briars, then carefully made my way to the area where limbs were twisted in a pile. I’ve got plans for this place, grandiose ones that – like most of my plans- rarely end like I envision. All I need is time and a chainsaw.  By the way, I always need a chainsaw.

Angry at myself for letting the hayfield go to seed, I pulled and tugged, tossed, and flung, and began expressing my strong displeasure for briars and brambles. The more I tossed the more I missed my mom, my friends and my old life. Then something lovely caught my eye. . . a buckeye, half-buried in the forest floor.

All work stopped.

I picked up the nut and immediately looked heavenward. Now I don’t claim to be a botanist, but I do know that buckeye trees look like, well. . . buckeye trees. The nuts they drop are encapsulated in either prickly balls, or soft leathery balls. Scouring the forest floor, I could find neither. It appeared that this buckeye had been tossed down from heaven just for me. This wasn’t a small nut, this was the biggest buckeye in the whole wide world !!!  I snapped a photo and immediately thought of Amber. She’s the Amber Appleseed of the Buckeye family. If you’ve met her, odds are, she’s placed a buckeye in your hand. Many people know that I rescue flowers from development. That is who I am . . . it is what I do. Sharing buckeyes with folk is who Amber is . . . it’s what she does.

Amber: My table mate left early, and I continued to hand out free buckeyes to people who paused at my table. An elderly lady ambled by putting much of her weight on a walking stick. I held out a buckeye to her, and she automatically lifted her hand to receive it. She opened her shaky, wrinkled hand, smiled, and said, “Ha! My daddy used to give these to me.”

She paused as if she had slipped into a deep memory, then cleared her throat.

“He used to tell me they’d bring me good luck. I haven’t seen a buckeye in years. Did you find this in the woods?”

“No,” I said. “I ordered these from the Internet. But I’ve found a few buckeyes in my lifetime, and it is a magical moment—like finding an arrowhead or a secret garden.”

The woman beamed and nodded. “Yes, it is, isn’t it? Magical.”

And just like that, I made a new friend. We connected over a buckeye—a buckeye—just as my father and I connected over buckeyes in all of the years preceding his death in 1992.

buckeye
#photo

Renea: Exiting the bramble pile, I hid my find behind my back and said, “Guess what I found?” Presenting the prize to my dad, for a moment I was back on Bett’s Branch standing atop the mountain rolling timber down the holler. For one moment I was ten years old and my Mom was still alive.

As Dad and I smiled, my daughter didn’t quite understand, being from the newer generation that must Google Buckeyes to learn of their importance. Dad placed the shiny nut in his leathery hand and said, “You know what this means?”

I certainly did. It meant I was tasked with the responsibility of finding someone worthy of the buckeye’s magic.

Amber: I closed shop and drove home with my mind awhirl with the events of the day. After I returned home, I checked Facebook, and that’s when I saw it. Renea Winchester had placed a photo of a big, brilliant buckeye on my Facebook wall with a message—“I’m thinking of you and feeling like the luckiest girl in the world #lookwhatIfound #itsabigone.” It was glorious—simply glorious.

The coincidences amused me. Even though we were in different states, I was thinking of Renea Winchester about the same time she was thinking of me. It must be a magical buckeye bond.

I helped Dad and Jamie position a couple goat-fence panels (the fence still isn’t finished), then Dad and I searched for another buckeye, or the tree from which it fell. Finding neither, we both smiled understanding the magic of the buckeye.

Amber and I would love to hear your magical buckeye stories. Please do share them with us.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna SandwichesMountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned a SIBA and GAYA nomination.  Visit her website here:

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One Year Ago

Yesterday my dad asked, “You know what tomorrow is?”

I needed no reminder. Not even the Christmas Cactus that decided to unfurl on the anniversary of Mom’s passing. I knew to the minute the moment Mother drew her last breath.

Mother's cactus: blooming to remind me that she is no longer suffering.
Mother’s cactus: blooming to remind me that she is no longer suffering.

One year ago, the morning began as any other: alarm sounding, daughter getting ready for school, morning duties.

Then the text from my brother: Mother is in the hospital.

She shouldn’t have been in the hospital. I had just left her. Dirty clothes piled beside the machine were a testament of my late-night return to Georgia from North Carolina.

Besides, Hospice was under strict orders to contact me first if something happened, because I had a 4 hour drive to get to her. They hadn’t called.

After speaking to the hospice nurse I determined it was drop and go time. I placed my daughter in the car, fake smile pasted to my face, and took her to school. Then I hit the emergency flashers and drove as fast as humanly possible -never at a safe speed- with one hand on my lights, blinking them at anyone ahead of me. I was thankful  for my fast car, having no way of knowing that two weeks later an impatient driver would hit me, total the car, and alter my life-path.

We never know our future: remember that because it is important.

The nurse called while I was en route: “We’re upping her oxygen, hoping to hold her until you get here.”

“Don’t.” I pleaded. “She’s ready to go. Please, please don’t hold her here.”

They didn’t listen.

Mother wasn’t conscious when I arrived. But she heard me when I said, “Momma, Jesus picked a beautiful day to come get you.”

Those were my first words to her.

She heard everything that was said: remember that because it is important.

Patients hear everything said over their bed. Everything.

And so I stood, for hours begging (silently) for Jesus to come take my mother. When I asked the nurse what happened, their response was, “she spiked a temperature.”

Mother never regained consciousness but she was very much aware of who was in the room. I know this because she waited until my brother left the room to draw her last breath. My mother: protective of her son until the last breath. It is the firstborn’s duty to watch their mother suffer.

She was also listening when I bent low so only she could hear me and uttered the most painful words I have ever spoken, “It’s ok to go. . . just let go.”

It was not ok for her to go, not really; but when it is a matter of death, a daughter bend over and whisper go, must lie and tell her it’s ok.

I will not share how difficult it is to watch someone die, to hear someone die, to be with someone who is in the laborious and lengthy process of dying and have that memory flash in your mind a million times over; I will however share my brother’s wisdom: Everyone will be here one day.

Everyone.

And now a year has passed.

Those will calloused hearts, or those who are lucky that death hasn’t taken a loved one, or are tone-deaf to death rattles, believe that one year is a long time. Listen to me when I tell you that for a daughter who never had the relationship she needed one day is a blink.

A blink.

Death and sorrow both wear no watch.

One year is but a blink.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna SandwichesMountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned a SIBA and GAYA nomination.  Visit her here.